Oxfordshire is brimming with pretty villages and historic market towns full of honey-hued houses and imbued with a charming, genteel air. Come for bracing country walks, browse for antiques, visit grand stately homes and landscaped gardens, pick up local produce at thriving farmer’s markets, or sit down for lunch at a cosy pub and let someone else do all the heavy lifting. Each lovely town and village has access to a rural treat, from the Cotswolds AONB, to the Chiltern Hills AONB and the stunning Windrush valley - all waiting to be explored by foot, on horseback or on two wheels - before finishing off with tea and cake in a little independent café.
Woodstock is a handsome market town a few miles north of Oxford and her dreaming spires. Come to stock up on fresh local produce at the buzzing farmer’s market, held in the square on the first and third Saturday of the month. Make sure to arrive early though as it’s all over by lunchtime. And don’t miss a visit to Blenheim Palace, one of England’s greatest stately homes, on the fringe of the town. Still home to the Churchill family, it’s a treasure trove of tapestries, statues, gilt-framed oil paintings of the great and good, heavy furniture, priceless china, and a dedicated Winston Churchill Exhibition. Escape the crowds and stroll through the fabulous gardens, landscaped by the great Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
Stay at Little Barn, and find rural peace in this eco-friendly Cotswold stone barn with relaxed owners.
The market town of Banbury, snuggled up against the Cotswolds, is charming. The centre is a jumble of narrow lanes, with a sprinkling of independent emporia and a decent market on Thursdays and Saturdays. Browse the fruit and vegetables, clothing, footwear, tools, cards, gifts and garden plants. Plus there’s a farmer’s market held on the first Friday of the month. The Oxford canal runs through town – a lovely spot for a stroll on a sunny evening. Here you’ll find the oldest working dry dock in Britain, Tooley’s Boatyard, which has been building and repairing narrowboats since 1790. You can hire one here and chug along on the river.
Stay at Stable Cottage at Manor Farm, converted stables in the grounds of a manor house in a peaceful village just outside Banbury with lovely walking in the Cherwell Valley.
Burford really is one of the most picturesque towns in England – a leafy, honey-hued gem. The teetering High Street, flanked by ancient houses of Cotswold stone and antique shops full of rare finds, sweeps downhill towards the river Windrush. Take a gentle stroll over the three-arched medieval bridge, then visit the impressive church. Built by proceeds from the wool trade, it’s a fine example of late Gothic architecture with some Norman origins thrown in. The town is a genteel place, beloved by Land Rover drivers and Barbour jacket wearers, and makes for a grand spot of antique shopping followed by a scrummy afternoon tea.
Stay at The Field Barn, to explore all the Cotswold gems and Oxford from this stunning, contemporary barn conversion for grown-ups.
Kingham, often named the jewel in Oxfordshire’s crown, is positioned in the leafy Evenlode valley. With a wide open village green, bordered by elegant cottages, it gives off a timeless air, yet it’s also a superb spot for all things foodie. In the heart of town, The Kingham Plough and The Wild Rabbit are two gorgeous inns serving delicious modern British menus, packed with organic, local and seasonal ingredients, while Daylesford Organic is only a couple of miles down the road. It’s not uncommon to spot a celeb or politician around these parts and Blur bassist, Alex James, hosts the annual Big Feastival at his local farm. Surrounded by miles of country walks and cycle rides, Kingham ticks all the boxes.
Stay at The Feathered Nest Country Inn, the village is tiny, the bar is lively, the food is delicious. The Cotswolds are at your feet and you’re encouraged not to lift a finger.
An historic village with a watery feel, thanks to the Thames on one side and the Hurst Water Meadow on the other. The ancient flood meadows, rescued by a local community charity from development, are brimming with wildlife and insects. They’re a riot of colour in the warmer months and it’s a super spot to stretch your legs. Fewer than 1,000 people live here but there’s enough of a buzz. The medieval abbey has tea rooms and hosts events including the very popular annual English Music Festival in May. If you visit at other times, it’s just as nice to soak up the quaint charm of the village on a wander past the grand townhouses, ancient mansions and pretty wisteria-clad cottages.
Stay at The Long House, a converted barn, just perfect for weekend getaways, filled with intriguing art, quirky antiques and an honesty gin bar – 30 minutes from Oxford.
Carmen is a freelance writer specialising in travel. She once lived in a bus in north Wales, skipped off to study in Barcelona, and now calls Bristol home. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she can be found reading (a lot), lake swimming (a little), and pottering on the allotment with husband and two kiddos. She’s currently dreaming about cold cerveza and torta in Mexico.